These days, the most direct route to the Oregon Coast from Portland is through Wafu’s back room on SE Division Street. Since September, this small chamber has been home to Roe, Wafu chef and co-owner Trent Pierce’s ambitious, modernist mash note to our ocean. The slinky, amber-lit spot makes use of critters and bits Pierce finds on weekly foraging trips to the coast—from jewel-toned sea lettuces to tiny, skittering surf crabs—in a wild lineup of inventive, unapologetically challenging plates.
Locals first swooned for this Portland-born chef’s meticulously plated flights of fish fancy at the short-lived Fin, which shuttered in early 2011. But Roe is a new animal: the reservations-only fine-dining experiment charges a premium for lavish but low-key service with a speakeasy vibe and small, fresh dishes with big, Japanese- and Spanish-inflected flavors—and it’s worth every penny. You won’t find a speck of Portland’s patron pig, but you’re likely to encounter raw sea urchin, luscious and briny with roasted foie gras and a tarragon-spiked huckleberry sauce.
Portland, OR 97202
For the best experience, sit at the high bar in front of the miniscule open kitchen, where you can watch Pierce and his cooking/foraging partner Patrick Schultz spin and slide between a wooden counter and three induction cook tops like synchronized swimmers. The ballet churns out tasty surprises like a buttery pile of mahogany clams hiding beneath a cloud of aerated Yukon gold potato and a tangle of smoke-tinged “noodles” sliced from a block of dashi gelée. The plate looks like sea foam blowing across a winter beach and tastes like the world’s best seafood fettuccini.
Although diners can order à la carte or craft a four-course menu for $55, the real stunner at Roe is the $85 chef’s choice Grand Tasting Menu—a multihour aquatic odyssey that encompasses every dish on the menu and a few that aren’t. And don’t forget to ante up for unique wine and spirits pairings. As Pierce explains with a grin, “It’s a ‘bring it on’ situation.”